Senate passes gay rights bill, but GOP likely to kill it in the House

In a historic but mostly symbolic vote, the U.S. Senate today approved legislation banning workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Seventeen years after a similar anti-discrimination measure failed by one vote, 54 members of the Senate Democratic majority and 10 Republicans voted for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. It is the first major gay rights bill since Congress repealed the ban on gays serving openly in the military three years ago.

“This is a really tremendous milestone, a day I will never forget,” said Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), the first openly lesbian senator.

Other gay rights advocates joined Baldwin in hailin the bipartisan, 64-32 vote as an historic step. But the bill is unlikely to become law as long as Republicans control the U.S. House of Representatives. Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has said the Republican-led House is unlikely to even allow the bill on the floor of his chamber for a vote.

Instead, Boehner is expected to bottle it up in committee to avoid facing the wrath of the fundamemtalist Christian and tea party adeherents who, along with the corporate right, control the Republican Party. He and other Republican opponents are saying that the bill is too broadly worded and would result in expensive litigation, although federal law already protects other groups from employment disrimination.

The Family Research Council, an anti-gay hate group, also warned that ENDA “would transform the workplace into an environment in which certain self-identifications and conduct must be given special privileges by employers” that might require people to suppress religious or moral views. FRC fears that people who harass and ridicule gays in the workplace might be subject to dismissal under the law.

Still, President Obama praised supportive senators and called on House Republicans to quickly permit a vote. 

“One party in one house of Congress should not stand in the way of millions of Americans who want to go to work each day and simply be judged by the job they do,” Obama said in a statement. “Now is the time to end this kind of discrimination in the workplace, not enable it.”

Proponents of the bill cast the effort as Congress following the lead of business and localities as some 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies and 22 states have outlawed employment discrimination against gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.

 In 1996 — the first time the Senate voted on a bill similar to ENDA — Sens. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, and John McCain, R-Ariz., voted no. Today they voted yes.

“This is the right thing to do,” McCain told reporters before he cast his vote.

The 10 Republican who voted for the measure were Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., Susan Collins, R-Maine, Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, Dean Heller, R-Nev., Mark Kirk, R-Ill., John McCain, R-Ariz., Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Patrick J. Toomey, R-Pa.

ENDA has 192 GOP co-sponsors in the House.